A 35-year-old bridge painter is missing and presumed dead after he fell from the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York, apparently while doing something to his safety harness.
John Massas, 35, of Union, NJ, fell 140 feet into Long Island Sound before horrified co-workers as he was either adjusting or changing his harness at the start of his shift just after 8 a.m. Friday, his second day on the job, authorities said. He had been standing on a platform below the suspension bridge’s deck, authorities said.
|Painter John Massas with his wife and childhood sweetheart Vanessa and children Vanessa, 13, Jessica, 7; and John Jr., 5.|
Colleagues briefly glimpsed Massas—still in his harness—treading water and waving from the 49-degree water, but he then disappeared from view.
‘A Very Good Man’
Hours of searching by the U.S. Coast Guard and police failed to locate Massas. By Friday afternoon, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the bridge, was calling the search effort a recovery mission, rather than a rescue.
“He was a very good man,” Carmen Gonzalez, Massas’s mother-in-law, told the New York Daily News. “We’re going to miss him. ... I would tell him all the time to be careful.”
“He was a great provider,” said Gonzalez, 66. “He was a very nice person. He loved his children. He was a great husband. I don’t know what they’re going to do now.”
Massas, a member of IUPAT Local 806, worked for Nuco Painting Corp., a Long Island subcontractor hired by Queens-based El Sol Contracting & Construction Corp.
The union local declined Monday to comment on the accident, and the owner of Nuco Painting did not respond to a request for comment.
A co-worker on Massas’s 15-member crew told the Daily News that Massas had been working in the middle of the span on a “rickety” platform that needed replacement.
Co-workers also told the New York Post that a safety boat that was supposed to have been patrolling the river beneath the bridge was not present when Massas fell. The co-workers said that the Coast Guard arrived at the scene before the safety boat.
‘A Dangerous Job’
Family members told reporters that Massas had been painting at heights for 10 years and had repeatedly reassured worried relatives that he was careful about fall protection and confident in his equipment.
“I used to tell him it was a dangerous job,” his mother-in-law said. “He’d say, ‘I tie myself good. I’m all right.’ He was very secure in his job.”
|The Throgs Neck Bridge, which opened in 1961, carries I-295 over the East River where it meets Long Island Sound. |
The Throgs Neck Bridge, a suspension bridge, opened in 1961 and carries Interstate 295 over the East River where it meets Long Island Sound.
Investigations were underway by MTA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the New York police, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
Previous Fatal Fall
In 2007, a worker for El Sol Contracting fell 70 feet to his death from the Verrazano Bridge. OSHA said that the man’s co-worker had been operating a backhoe that knocked a 7,000-pound barrier onto the worker’s platform, pushing the worker through the guardrail.
The company was cited for two serious safety violations, including inadequate fall protection. The original $7,000 fine was later reduced to $4,800.
In 2009, El Sol was cited for one serious and one other-than-serious violation on a highway bridge project and paid a $1,620 fine (reduced from $2,700).
Nuco Painting has no record of violations with OSHA.